Out of the Badlands: Part 2:4
She was filthy and disheveled when she came in, reeking of sheep and abject with failure. She was so far out of her comfort zone that I almost felt bad for her, but rather than offer her any hint of sympathy, I handed her a bar of soap and said, “Wash first, then eat.” She didn’t say anything, but took the bar out onto the porch where a bucket stood, and scrubbed and scrubbed, splashing water everywhere including on her clothes. I didn’t blame her. It was a hot day, and every opportunity to wash was an excuse to douse one’s self.
When she came in again, I handed her the plate, saying, “Go ahead and eat. Bobby is taking his nap. If you want to go in and rest too until he wakes up, that’s fine. I’m going to go out and take care of some of the things I have to do. Make sure you mix up his milk with the boiled water from the teakettle.”
She studied me for a moment. I think she’d been expecting me to berate her, and she wasn’t sure what I was doing, acting nice. After a moment, she took the food and retreated to the table.
I went outside to work with the second wether, while the one she’d been trying to handle scuttled to the far side of the pen and stayed there, ears laid back with fear and stomping a forefoot repeatedly. I was just getting the gentler one to walk nicely with me, turning when I turned and stopping when I stopped, when I saw Sheila emerge from the house with Bobby on her hip. He had his head down on her shoulder and one hand curled under his chin, clearly still not quite awake. She waved to me. For the moment, all was back to normal.
That evening, Faustus brought in a pair of skinned animals I strongly suspected to be cats, although he had judiciously removed their heads, paws and tails so I couldn’t be sure. That night, we had a fabulously rich, meaty stew for dinner, the best we’d had in a while. It felt like a celebration, although I couldn’t have said of what—normalcy? Peace? Being alive and healthy?
Before we went to bed, Faustus said, “Tomorrow I’m going to go looking for some bike tires. I know we took the ones from that one place, so I’ll not go back there. I’ll take a good big pack with me, though, in case I do find somewhere that has a bike with tires that hold air. I’ll see what else I can find while I’m out. Any requests besides milk powder and a playpen?”
“Sugar or honey,” I said. “Tea. Coffee. Medicines of any sort. Kitchen knives, rope—”
“Makeup? Lotion? My skin gets so dry. And—” Sheila hesitated, looking embarrassed, “Do you ever see chooks when you’re out? Could you catch some? I miss eggs.”
Faustus looked thoughtful. “I do see them sometimes. They run when they see me, but if I find where they roost I might catch some at night. I can give it a try. Add an extra day or two to my trip, and no promises, all right?
She smiled at him, and I felt bad for her. She was still a woman without a man, and he’d already told her he didn’t want her. I could see she wanted him, though.
He gave her a nod, went to tuck Bobby into his little bed, and then joined me in the room that was now ‘ours’ and not merely ‘his.’ That was the night I got pregnant, although I didn’t know it then. In the morning, with a minimal pack, assorted tools, and a bottle of water slung at his side, he headed out into the bush. I remembered, wistfully, when ‘going shopping’ meant a quick jaunt to the corner market.
The two men came in the afternoon of the second day that Faustus was gone. Boomer alerted us, barking ferociously in a way I’d never heard before, even the day he chased after, and nearly got himself killed by, a pack of wild dogs.
They threw rocks at Boomer, which he dodged, and I—feeling terribly vulnerable—told Sheila to take Bobby into the back bedroom and keep him quiet no matter what. I told her to bar the door, and I handed her one of the boning knives and one of the female condoms I’d been carrying when I first met, with instructions on how to use it if the men started trying to get into the room. She was pale as she carried the baby down the hall, but she looked resolute.
There was no point in pretending nobody lived here. The healthy sheep in corrals, the dog, and the bucket of water and simmering pot of food on the porch might as well have been flashing grail beacons proclaiming that humans who had not succumbed to the ravages of the Terrible Day. I armed myself, too—inside and out—and went out to confront the two men before they decided to kill Boomer just to shut him up.
They were filthy, bearded, and gaunt. They reminded me a little bit of Faustus when I met him, except that he’d kept to himself, and these two had come trespassing boldly onto property that they could see was occupied. Maybe they were counting on being able to outnumber and overpower the residents. Considering they now found themselves two against one, and that one a mere woman, I’m sure they felt they’d hit the jackpot.
I stepped out onto the porch. The boning knife was tucked carefully into the back waistband of my pants, so when I stood with my hands on my hips, I looked unarmed. “C’mere, Boomer,” I called. “Come in here and leave those men alone.”
Boomer ignored me. He skulked just out of stone’s throw range, his furious barks subdued now to a low, rumbling, and ominous snarl.
The men turned their attention to me. They were wary, though. Maybe they’d hit the jackpot, but what woman would be fool enough to step outside by herself? None, apparently. They didn’t approach. One of them said, “Hey,” like he was some kind of friendly neighbor who happened to wander by for a visit, and the other one cased the dooryard in case I had another dog or maybe a couple of bodyguards handy.
“You two just move along,” I said firmly. “This land is taken. Plenty of empty ranches further out.”
But they didn’t, of course. They moved toward me.